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Evan Li Schulz C.W Post January 9, 2012 Kurt Vonnegut¶s Cat¶s Cradle Religion, government and science have been very controversial topics throughout history. In the novel Cat¶s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut, these topics are assessed in the form of a completely made up religion, a small island with a seriously corrupt government with a dictator for a leader and a scientist whose invention could possibly put the world in a literal ³total shit storm´. Vonnegut uses his black humor to convey his thoughts these topics in the novel. All in all, relying too much on religion, government or science can lead to lies, fear and ultimately destruction. Vonnegut introduced Bokononism which is according to the book, ³a religion made completely up of lies´. ³Bokononism is invalidated not only by its founder who defined it as foma [harmless untruths] and warns that he would never take his own advice, because he knew it was worthless" (Vonnegut 187). The founder of Bokononism has rejected his own beliefs. ³Bokonon realizes that all religions are founded on lies, but he also realizes that people need good, helpful lies if they are to cope successfully with their lives´ (Marvin 88). Religion is basically helping people to understand by feeding those lies. Later on in the story, it tells of why the religion is necessary to the people of the island. San Lorenzo, the island where the story mainly takes place and where Bokononism was first introduced, is a very impoverished place where the people there are starving and poor. Bokononism has helped the people on the island by giving them some sense of direction. Just before the actual book begins, there is a little quote that says, ³Live by the foma that makes you

The people know that they are lies and they are basically lying to themselves to make their life ³better´. ³The ideology opposed to Hoenikker's morally blind scientific rationalism in Cat's Cradle is Bokononism. "The cruel paradox of Bokononist thought. Vonnegut doesn¶t think that religion is true. Bokononism is the same as any other religion. ³Bokononism has been created to provide µdynamic tension¶ that will distract the people from oppression and material suffering that marks their lives´ (Beacham 686). especially religion. ³Anyone unable to understand how a useful religion can be founded on lies will not understand this book either´ (Vonnegut 6-7).2 brave and kind and healthy and happy´ (Vonnegut VIII). But there is one caveat to relying on Bokononism. there has been major controversy over different types of religion and some . The people on the island need the religion to help them live with their lives but in retrospect they make what they know as reality into a sense of falsehood. As stated before. Religion is used as sort of a code of conduct that people live by in order to help them with their lives. then Bokononism negated by its founder´ (Abádi-nagy 89). the heartbreaking necessity of lying about reality. Throughout history. and the heartbreaking impossibility of lying about it" (Reed and Leeds 90). In some aspects. the island needed to find a way to quell its poverty and desperation and Bokononism was the answer. a religion of lies. This is exactly what happened to the island when Bokononism became the main religion on the island. a mock religion which boasts of its falseness but claims that belief in its tenets is pragmatically essential because life is otherwise intolerable ´ (Stableford 134). ³Some aspects of reality negated in Bokononism. they know themselves that the religion is made up of lies. In his view. It is a decent way to live life. Even though they are following the religion. but it should not be taken literally. Vonnegut¶s use of black humor towards all aspects in the book. shows his stance on each of the controversial topics. and the thing is that relying only on lies is a bad way to live.

³How the hell innocent is a man who helps make a thing like an atomic bomb?´ (Vonnegut 68). Vonnegut wrote this novel during the Cold War. releasing ice-nine out to the world. off the old block´ (Vonnegut 53). represents science and technology in all of its glory. an isomer of ice nine which freezes any body of water at room temperature when come into contact to. is a form of water whose freezing point is over one hundred degrees Fahrenheit´ (Hearron 187). which was then passed down to his children. his children happen to use the ice-nine for personal gain something and in turn. Again. ³[They] had in their possessions seeds of ice-9. Dr. he helped create things to help soldiers such as ice nine to help them get their tanks over swampy areas. Felix Hoenikker is mainly responsible for the production of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in the novel. Hoenikker was a brilliant scientist.3 things in the bible have been disproven or neglected. the product of the scientist Felix Hoenikker. who was also the head of the atom bomb project. ice-nine. Ice-9 is contagious´ (NFS V23 37). Science is more reliable than religion in its ways to be able to show people what happens. It is not something that one should be devout about. ³Ice nine. it gets loose. In the novel. . ³Developed by a scientist partly responsible for the atomic bomb. it is willed by him to his children. eventually. but many people dislike him due to the fact that he made the bomb and also later. ice-nine was found to be a very dangerous object and as stated before. Later on in the story. Ice nine was created by Felix Hoenikker. Later on. seeds grown from their father¶s seed-chips. the fact that Felix Hoenikker gave pieces of ice nine to his kids was in bad taste. not all of whom seem very responsible. but the use of technology can be very dangerous in the wrong hands. religion should be taken as an ethical way to live life. in a matter of speaking.

The fear of technology is very real due to the fact that it can destroy and kill everything in its path without hesitation. when all Bokononist teachings are said and the apocalyptic deed with ice-nine is done. but when it is in the hands of the wrong people. but a hemisphere of ice nine´ (Vonnegut 243). It wasn¶t until the end of the book where it shows the raw power of this new technology. annihilation of the human race is a real possibility´ (Beacham 686). But what happened to the island was mainly due to Frank Hoenikker giving the ice nine shards to Papa Monzano in exchange for the lead scientist position on the island. Unfortunately. The damage caused by the ice-nine is described to be an apocalyptic event. ³If technological advancement continues without a concurrent growth in ethical awareness. causing mass destruction on the island and multiple deaths of people on the island. . As with ice-nine. or to put it more appropriately. In the story.4 The release of ice nine to the world was caused by the children of Felix Hoenikker. ice-nine was the epitome of technology at its most dangerous. it completely wiped out everyone in San Lorenzo. Bokonon's "harmless untruths" prove to be not so harmless after all´ (Abádi-nagy 89). ³It was no longer water. The three children used the ice nine for personal gain. it is a very dangerous object where the possibility of destruction is inevitable. ³When all is said and done. As stated before. This is a description of the ice-nine had spread. and the earth is frozen up into an ice ball. The ice-nine was released causing the death of most of the supporting characters. ice-nine will freeze any body of water it comes into contact with. Science overall is a good thing because it helps people understand the world better. it comes into contact with the water surrounding ice nine and it turns the ocean into an unbreakable core of ice-nine. ³On the lips of each decedent was the blue white frost of ice nine´ (Vonnegut 279).

That being said. When Papa Monzano dies he turns to Frank to be the next dictator. He himself had made following Bokononism an illegal thing to do but later in the story it so happens to be that he is actually a Bokononist himself. he is also a hypocrite. Frank does not want the job and urges john to take it´ (Sharp 1369). This shows how corrupt the government actually is. Papa Monzano. Papa Monzano is more of a bully than anything.5 Government has both its positive and negatives. including Papa Monzano. The dictator of San Lorenzo abuses his power and scares everyone to make him look that much more powerful. Someone who isn¶t fit to rule a place. Not to mention. ³Frank is expected to become the leader when the ailing president ³Papa´ Monzano dies. To further promote his image. ³Pay no attention to Caesar. the type of government on the island of San Lorenzo certainly shows the negatives of government. he had adopted Mona when she was little to make him look better. However. The rules set by the dictator are just downright cruel and uncalled for. is a Bokononist´ (Marvin 82). To start off. Vonnegut uses San Lorenzo to show how corrupt a government can actually be. ³Although Bokononism is outlawed and punishable by death. even as small as the island of San Lorenzo should not be able to receive such power. is a ruthless dictator who shows no mercy when it comes to anything he doesn¶t like. . the current ruler. He doesn¶t show the concern of the bad economy on the island and merely just brushes it off as nothing. No government should be allowed to just kill anyone that they see fit. everyone on the island. Caesar doesn¶t have the slightest idea whats really going on´ (Vonnegut 101). The fact that someone that comes to the island a week ago is able to be the president of the island is just beyond belief. so to speak´ (Vonnegut 176). ³He executes one every two years just to keep the pot boiling.

³Anyone caught practicing Bokononism in San Lorenzo. But according to an outside source.6 The acquisition of power doesn¶t come on a silver platter waiting on your doorstep. will die on the hook!´ (Vonnegut 134). that person would get stabbed by the hook and would be hanged there to die. Vonnegut uses his specialty of dark humor to show how any Average Joe is able to become the president of an island that is messed up in so many ways possible. San Lorenzo¶s brutal dictator. As previously stated. to get the girl of his dreams and nothing more is a terrible reason to rule a country. he threatened the people of the island by bringing upon the wrath of the ³hook´. When Papa Monzano was the dictator of the island. ³Papa Monzano. doesn¶t follow it. practices bokononism. the dictator that came up with such a law. it can create some negative aspects. . is offered the position by Frank who is too afraid to rule the island for himself. That fact that he is only being president. marry Mona. we can infer that John has had no kind of leadership experience whatsoever. Whenever someone on the island does a severe crime. John decides to become a Bokononist. Otherwise. and become president of San Lorenzo´ (Marvin 82). Someone who can control his or her own greed for power is the right choice. In the novel. ³Faced with losing Mona. Papa Monzano. practicing bokononism would be punishable by death on the hook. That goes to show that even the person that makes up the rule. ³What¶s the job?´ ³President of the Republic of San Lorenzo´ (Vonnegut 197). the main character. when power is in the hands of a power hungry person. John. On the island. The hook was a literal hook that is located in the center of the town marketplace. threatens Bokononists with torture and death´ (Beacham 685). From the novel. Government is perfectly fine when a person is actually capable of governing the people. This directly correlates to the acquisition of power given to john.

With the ice-nine out in the open. In the end. the characters are hopeless and desperate. ³Dr. When the ice nine was released. and I would take from the ground some of the blue-white poison that makes statues of men. I would write history of human stupidity: and I would climb to the top of Mount McCabe and lie down on my back with my history for a pillow. ³The sky was filled with worms. The scene outside of the island shows an apocalyptic like environment. Hoenikker¶s success in creating ice-nine leads to the destruction of almost all life on earth´ (Marvin 94). so nuclear missiles and atomic bombs played a major part of how he saw the world as a whole. Again. this novel by Vonnegut was written during the cold war. ³When it fell. ³Vonnegut emphasizes the folly of developing and harboring weapons that can destroy the world many times over´ (Sharp 1370). It was primarily due to Felix Hoenikker¶s ice-nine invention that all of these events that took place on the island. The fact that we have weapons that could blow up the entire world is just beyond belief. The worms were tornadoes´ (Vonnegut 261). a massively corrupt government and a shard of ice that can cause some devastating effects. it would freeze into hard little hobnails of ice nine and that would be the end of the world!´ (Vonnegut 50). This resembles the account of what would happen if one or a few atomic bombs were to go off in the world. the entire island of San Lorenzo turned into a Blue white pearl. There was mass destruction on the island caused by the release of the ice-nine. it spells out a recipe for major destruction. Ice-nine was his way of demonstrating how something would be able to set off a major event. ³ If I were a younger man. There would jus be a vast area where destruction would occur. Vonnegut¶s direct correlation between ice-nine and current nuclear weapons shows a striking resemblance and could possibly lead to the same fate as of that on the island of San Lorenzo.7 With a phony religion. and I . everything and everyone except for john is alive and john meets Bokonon. the founder of Bokononism.

Religion.8 would make a statue of myself. the power hungry nor for those who believe in anything. really is the end. . they are not for the weak hearted. of course. ³In the end--which. government and science are good in some aspects but according to the novel and outside resources. Vonnegut¶s famous black humor styled writing easily coveys his opinions very nicely in a manor. man is not able to handle the power at hand without doing something wrong in the process.they can't cope´ (Stableford 134). grinning horribly and thumbing my nose at You Know Who´ (Vonnegut 287). which shows the faults of each of these topics and how they can result in destruction. lying on my back. Again. He is also saying indirectly that man is not capable of such power and knowledge without messing it all up. Bokonon is basically saying that he would redo his actions and set things straight.

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